In season training – An Introduction

It is that time of the year finally – April - with the Easter long weekend now behind us, the AFL having kicked off, as well as all the state leagues, and now with trial games down, it is time for local, country and junior leagues to kick off too.


You have done pre-season, done extra training outside of club training, and are in good physical condition. But what should you be doing, and how should you be approaching things now that the season has started?


This is going to be the focus of the majority of articles and posts on social media that we put up over the next 5-6 months. Based on feedback, we will be looking into different training options, both from a macrocycle (the season layout) as well as a microcycle (a weekly layout) point of view, as well as looking a little more into the other areas of critical importance such as recovery techniques (nutrition, sleep, supplements, massage, foam rolling, etc) as well as load monitoring and goal tracking/updating.


In this introductory article, we are just going to look over the general aspects and aims of the in-season training – or more specifically – the in-season aspects of training that you are responsible for yourself. After all, with club/team training this will be taken care of for you by your coach and/or club fitness coach.


The biggest training mistake that occurs out there during footy season is to drop the strength work entirely from training. This often occurs with the mistaken belief that ‘club training will keep me fit enough’, or that ‘I did the work in pre-season, now I can just train and play with the gains I have made.’ However this is a big mistake, as strength is the underlying quality that all other physical abilities are built on top of, and also is vital to injury prevention measures. Additionally, by not maintaining strength training during the season, you will be exposed to a de-training effect, losing any progress you made and being back to square one again in no time.


An additional concern can also be time, with players becoming more time poor during the season, and of course everyone has a life outside of footy. But it is important to remember that even 1 session a week – hell even 1 (quality) session a fortnight if that’s realistic – is better than 5-6 months of nothing.

Table taken from Functional Strength Training for Australian Rules Football.


Another surprisingly common mistake – down the opposite end of the spectrum – that occurs is too much extra training and not enough recovery during the season. This is particularly common among players who love strength work and fitness work in general for the sake of the physical development itself. As we have touched on repeatedly over the last few years, there is nothing wrong with this. But from a performance point of view, if you are still doing 3-4 strength sessions per week during the actual season, you can’t expect to be performing anywhere near your optimal on game day. Certainly not consistently.


Maintenance? Or Continual Development?


The main objective during the season is to maintain the standards achieved during the pre-season, and this certainly can’t be achieved if you aren’t strength training. However, Stuart Yale of the Glasgow Warriors (professional Rugby Union in Scotland) says that the season should not be merely about maintenance but also about continual improvement in these parameters. It must be noted, this approach is based on his premise that simply maintaining a certain level will actually be going backwards once you factor in the fatigue and stress that is gradually accumulated during the season. Additionally, Stuart is mainly focused on full time athletes who can dedicate all their energy and time to their athletic pursuit, and where a 2% drop off is an enormous difference.


On the other hand, former Brisbane Bronco’s high performance manager and current head of the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association Dan Baker says that;


“The major consideration is to maintain maximal strength, explosive strength and power levels as close to their preparation period levels, with a workload that minimises interference with sport performance and other important training factors such as speed, endurance, skill and tactical training.”


Either way, this discussion point highlights how important the experts in high performance know that it is to continue to strength train during the football season. In our case it is just a matter of ensuring that the programming of particular exercises as well as weight and sets and reps and most importantly training volume, is done properly, and is planned in a realistic manner in terms of time and commitment restrictions.


So the key here is to do it in a way that will also not hinder match day performance, or lead to greater levels of fatigue during the season either. Charles Poliquin, probably the most well-known strength coach in the world, says 2 strength sessions a week is ideal for football players (gridiron football players that is) to maintain strength during the season.


Charles also outlines the day after a match as his preferred time for athletes to perform the first of their 2 strength training sessions for the week, with the second session performed 2 days prior to the next match. For most players this would be Sunday and Thursday. However I don’t expect many players to be interested in spending the day after a game of footy performing squats and woodchops, nor do I expect many players to be keen on a double-session Thursday (with club training as well). More realistically, the 2 days per week for strength would likely be best done by most players on a Monday and a Wednesday (assuming club training is Tuesday and Thursday.)

Table taken from Agility Speed & Conditioning for Aussie Rules




In truth, strength training on a Sunday (the day after a match) would be preferable to on a Monday from a quality point of view. This is because you will be sorer on a Monday (2 days after a game) than on a Sunday (the following day.) However once again, is it realistic? Perhaps not. And is this common? Not really. But that doesn’t mean that Sunday should be purely about doing nothing – and in fact this will result in your Monday session being of less quality. This doesn’t need to be anything strenuous at all – merely a small/low intensity bout of movement – be it a very light jog, a walk, a swim combined with static stretches and potentially some foam rolling/or light massage. The worst thing you can do this day after a match is nothing. Not only will your next session not be of the level of quality that it otherwise would be, but nor will the rest of your week. And don’t underestimate these little amounts along the way – as things like fatigue are cumulative. Meaning little amounts and little things that seem like nothing add up along the way and compound – resulting in larger changes or results.


This is something that we will expand on in the weeks and months ahead, as there are so many areas that we can branch off to on this topic of in-season training;


"Should Monday be the main session, with Wednesday lighter?"


"Should they both be the same?"


"Higher reps in season with less weight? Or less reps and higher weight?"


"What is the best sets and reps scheme in season?"


"What should my total volume be?"


"What are the key exercises in season?"


"What about food? Should it be different during the year – or prior to a match?"


"Ice baths or massage?"

These questions and many more related to these areas will be addressed progressively throughout the season so stay tuned.


For now, the key things to understand are;


  1. Strength work should be maintained during the season – ideally with 2 sessions a week.
  2. Recovery between matches, and keeping accumulated/compounded fatigue to a minimum, whilst maintaining physical qualities, is the prime goal during the season.


Good luck with round 1, and stay tuned for much more detailed in-season information to come – or as always – send through questions or ideas – and we will put responses and information up in the coming weeks.

If you would like more detailed and personalised direction, checkout our personalised online programming, or if you would prefer even more personalised and detailed in-person coaching (for those lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Adelaide), check out our Athletic Development Coaching and Junior Athletic Development Coaching.

Strength Coach


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